New research on race and the death penalty


Blacks who kill whites are most likely to be executed, according to new research highlighted in a press release from Ohio State University (31 July).

Blacks convicted of killing whites are not only more likely than other killers to receive a death sentence – they are also more likely to actually be executed, a new study suggests. But the findings showed that African Americans on death row for killing nonwhites are less likely to be executed than other condemned prisoners.

“Examining who survives on death row is important because less than 10 percent of those given the death sentence ever get executed,” said David Jacobs, co-author of the study and professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “The disparity in execution rates based on the race of victims suggests our justice system places greater value on white lives, even after sentences are handed down.”

This apparently is the first study to examine whether the race of murder victims affects the probability that a convicted killer gets the ultimate punishment, Jacobs said.

The research is discussed further in an interview with Jacobs in Newsweek last month (hat tip: The Situationist Blog)



What are the relationships between death row offender attributes, social arrangements, and executions? Partly because public officials control executions, theorists view this sanction as intrinsically political. Although the literature has focused on offender attributes that lead to death sentences, the post-sentencing stage is at least as important. States differ sharply in their willingness to execute and less than 10 percent of those given a death sentence are executed. To correct the resulting problems with censored data, this study uses a discrete-time event history analysis to detect the individual and state-level contextual factors that shape execution probabilities. The findings show that minority death row inmates convicted of killing whites face higher execution probabilities than other capital offenders. Theoretically relevant contextual factors with explanatory power include minority presence in nonlinear form, political ideology, and votes for Republican presidential candidates. Inasmuch as there is little or no systematic research on the individual and contextual factors that influence execution probabilities, these findings fill important gaps in the literature.

Photo credit: Idysw357, Creative Commons License

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